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The Phantom of the Opera: A Performance Review

The art of stage performance has been attracting people since times immemorial, appealing to their imagination and evoking an emotional response that nurtures the sensitive part of human beings. To fulfill its complex esthetical purpose, the stage sets extremely high demands both for the ones performing on it and for the piece being performed. One of the most widespread genres of scenic performance is the so-called musical theatre which represents a synthetic form of stage art, combining the music, the lyrics, and the book (or libretto) and requiring not only vocal but also high acting skills from the performers. Sprung to life already in antiquity, musical theatre developed through history, and in the twentieth century experienced a new upsurge, flourishing in the form of musicals written by Gershwin, Rodgers, and Hammerstein, and others.

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One of the mega-stars of the 20th-century musical is Andrew Lloyd Webber, with most of his thirteen musicals being hits of the stage long after their release. One of the hallmarks of Webber’s work is The Phantom of the Opera — 1986 musical inspired by the 1911 Gaston Leroux novel and recognized as the longest-running Broadway musical and the most successful entertainment project in history. During its history, The Phantom of the Opera has become a truly international phenomenon, translated into several languages and produced in more than twenty countries all over the world. With its 8 p.m. performance at the Majestic Theatre in New York on September 17, 2009, the musical became the first Broadway show ever to reach 9,000 performances. The special anniversary was marked by the presence of Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, appearing on stage with the other key members of the original Phantom of the Opera creative team, Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne — as well as the current Phantom Broadway cast — and, together with Broadway’s current Phantom John Cudia, cutting a special 9,000-shaped cake to mark the occasion.

Needless to say, that night’s performance was splendid! The Majestic Theatre, sitting over sixteen hundred spectators, was overflowing with excitement. The thrilled public, young and old, comprising mostly the biggest admirers of the show, with some of them experiencing the performance for thousands of times in their lives, streamed through the passages of The Majestic, and sometimes you would not know what sparkled more — the gilded decorations of the grand interior or the gleeful smiles of that evening guests. However extraordinary the evening was, the prices were kept at a standard rate, ranging from $26.50 in the rear mezzanine rows to $121.50 in the orchestra and front mezzanine zones. Anyway, the two-and-a-half-hour enjoyment of the musical plus some extra surprises of the night were more than worth the money!

The timeless story of seduction and despair was revealed to the breath taken audience by a young and enthusiastic cast. The title role compellingly sung and acted by John Cudia was also performed by him with the National Tour to critical praise. Jennifer Hope Wills portrayed the character of Christine as a pretty ingenue blossoming before our eyes into a dramatic heroine. Ryan Silverman presented a vocally and visually convincing Raoul. The supporting cast appeared to be none the less persuasive, with Patricia Phillips to be singled out as an overweening prima donna and Cristin J. Hubbard — as an awesome ballet mistress.

The enthralment of the action was duly supported by a well-thought-through sound design, realized by a large orchestra comprising almost thirty musicians and making use of the strings, the woodwinds, the brass and the keyboards, along with a pre-recorded electric guitars and synthesizers sounds track, which is used during the Overture and most title songs to avoid the unwanted mechanical noise picked up by the singers’ microphones. The Majestic building, with its single large balcony design and an enormous dome of the performance hall proved to be ideal for the performance, providing the necessary acoustic environment for the amplifications built in regularly along the hall circumference.

The two acts of the musical, separated by a fifteen-minute intermission, flew by in an eyewink, with the audience savoring every of the famous numbers: the innocent and gentle “Think of Me”, the “Angel of Music”, the engulfing “The Phantom of the Opera”, the enticing “The Music of the Night” (encored), the romantic “All I Ask of You”, the flamboyant “Masquerade”, the dramatic “The Point of No Return” (being my personal favourite, as Cudia’s voice crept in the depth of soul and it was quite impossible not to succumb to his Phantom’s appeal) and others. The solo pieces captivated with heartfelt emotion, and the mass choir scenes, especially the “Masquerade” fascinated with the overflowing buoyancy and primordial energy. The audience burst into enthusiastic applause after almost every number performed and the cast responded with none the least delight, heightening the emotional tension of the drama.

All in all, the anniversary night of The Phantom of the Opera proved once again that true romance, love and drama would always find a response in people’s hearts, winning more and more admirers of the art that appeals to the deepest-hidden cords of human soul.

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